Going Nano: Miniature Gadgets on Rampage

“Imagine a medical device that travels through the human body to seek out and destroy small clusters of cancerous cells before they can spread. Or a box no larger than a sugar cube that contains the entire contents of the Library of Congress. Or materials much lighter than steel that possess ten times as much strength”. So says the U.S. National Science Foundation

Nanotechnology holds the promise of manufacturing tiny devices around the size of molecules. Machines that are not wider than 100 nanometers – motors, robots and even whole computers. This sort of molecular manufacturing can have important implications in medicine, manufacturing, national security, agriculture and energy. In fact, it is expected to affect almost every industry as nanotechnology is general-purpose technology.

The core idea behind nanotechnology is the attempt to try to build new machines by manipulating atoms one by one. Traditional manufacturing methods move atoms in mass in processes like casting and machining. But nanotechnology aims at reducing cost and increasing effectiveness by using atoms as building blocks, placing them together one at a time, as permitted by the laws of physics, until the product is manufactured.

Making nano-devices will most definitely require the existence of nano-factories. These nano-factories in turn will need molecular robots to do the atom rearrangement and positioning. In one nano-factory, there could be thousands of nano-robots working together to manufacture a product.

Nanotechnology has been making a lot of progress since the 1960’s when American scientists held a meeting to find ways of extending the applications of molecular science. Today, a lot of interest has been generated about nanotechnology. Companies are increasingly miniaturizing their products with the intention of making devices on the nanoscale. In the United States, several companies are beginning to produce very tiny wires they refer to as “nano-wires” which are approximately 10nm in length. Lithography in the digital printing has made it possible to produce lines less than a millionth of a meter in length.

However, conservative nanotechnology scientists observe that these advancements do not follow the traditional definition of nanotechnology which requires products to be made directly by manipulating atoms. Presently, no new product has met this standard. To that effect, scientists still work tirelessly to produce the world’s first true nano-product.

In the future, nanotechnology may have dangerous implications. New, more powerful weapons of war could be developed if the technology is not pursued with the right intentions.